Quick links to recent stories:
Open letter to legislators: Retool administration of Colorado’s social programs
Life amidst poverty (by Hunger Through My Lens participant)
Colorado celebrates significant progress in eradicating child hunger
No holiday break for struggling Colorado families—and what’s at stake for kids in 2015
First day shopping with food stamps (by Hunger Through My Lens participant)
Connecting Coloradans to food resources
Access our archive for past stories worth reading.
June 1, 2015
Summer should be a fun and enriching time for all Colorado children, but for many it represents a time when they are at the greatest risk of hunger due to lost access to school meals. Thanks to a statewide collaboration to address child hunger, 533 community sites across Colorado will provide meals to children up to 18 years old at no cost this summer.
The Summer Food Service Program, funded by the USDA, was established to serve as a nutritional safeguard for children when school is not in session. The statewide summer food program is administered by the Colorado Department of Education and supported by Hunger Free Colorado, with hundreds of nonprofit and community-based organizations providing meals in their towns and neighborhoods.
“All children should have access to the fuel needed for healthy lives, so they can thrive in and out of school,” said Kathy Underhill, executive director for Hunger Free Colorado, the state’s leading anti-hunger advocacy organization. “It’s estimated one in five Colorado kids may not know when or where they will get their next meal, but programs like this fill a nutritional gap and help families stretch their food budgets further.”
Sites such as churches, schools and recreation centers offer free, nutritious breakfasts, lunches and/or suppers that meet federal nutrition guidelines, as well as fun, engaging activities for children. There are no income or registration requirements for participation.
“Good nutrition during the summer months helps young people return to school ready to learn,” said Darlene Barnes, regional administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Denver office. “We really appreciate our community partners for working so hard to provide children and teens access to healthy meals this summer.”
Last year nearly 1.5 million meals were served to Colorado kids and teens via the Summer Food Service Program, a 95 percent increase compared to 2009. The statewide collaboration aims to increase the number of meals served by an additional seven percent—about 105,000 meals—this summer.
“Increasing awareness and access to the Summer Food Service Program is a national and state priority,” said Jane Brand, director of the Office of School Nutrition with the Colorado Department of Education. “With the help of state partners and sponsors, Colorado is successfully increasing access to summer meals for children and fighting childhood hunger.”
May 27, 2015
The Colorado Department of Human Services is under scrutiny, following a letter to the Governor from lawmakers and a recent story about food stamps in The Denver Post. In light of this, our executive director, Kathy Underhill, felt it was imperative to draw attention to a vital component that’s missing from the legislators’ letter and the recent news stories.
Here is her guest commentary featured in The Denver Post, which serves as an open letter to our state’s elected officials:
I have watched the back and forth between low-income families, service providers, counties, lawmakers and the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) over the past 20 years. The Colorado legislatures’ letter to the Governor calling for leadership change is understandable given the performance issues of programs housed in CDHS. I work on the Food Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, and the data is grim. In February, one metro county only processed about 33% of the most destitute and hungry family’s applications for help within federal guidelines. And overall, Colorado ranks 46th in getting those eligible enrolled in food stamps.
In the for-profit world, a CEO would not last long if their company met customer needs only 33% of the time. Their product’s end user is catered to for the purpose of sales and profit. If the product does not meet consumer needs or isn’t available at the right time at the right price, the company goes out of business.
If the corporate world is the paradigm by which we judge the leadership at CDHS, it is easy to understand why lawmakers can look at data and call for resignations. But it is not the corporate world, and a vital piece of the story is missing.
There has been no substantive legislative or media attention given to the fact that Colorado is one of only a handful of states with county-administered programs. This mean that the state receives the federal dollars and is responsible for following policy, but the counties carry out the administration of benefits. This makes the state the consummate middle manager in a position of high responsibility and low authority, sandwiched between the federal government and 64 powerful counties.
Were CDHS to decide without exception that their customer is the one in need of benefits instead of the counties, the whole system would be transformed. The state technically has authority over the counties, but imagine if they truly exercised that authority—then the letter to the Governor from lawmakers might read quite differently, demanding a leadership change due to mandates interfering with local control.
Lawmakers need to ask themselves if they are willing to invest political and social capital along with tax dollars on behalf of those struggling the most. If the answer is yes, we need to retool the administration of these vital programs to include rigorous performance measures, incentives and consequences for both good and poor performance. And, if a county does not want or is unable to meet these measures, the state must be given the authority, within clear guidelines, to administer the program in lieu of the county. Poor performance should no longer be an option at any level.
Within the food stamp program, the state is understaffed by nearly half compared to other states. How can we expect so few staff to oversee, analyze, support, regulate and improve the program? Maybe we mistake cost savings for efficiency and effectiveness. As a result of low enrollment, grocery retailers lose more than $620 million per year in Colorado, on top of the emotional toll suffered by moms who do not know if they will be able to feed their children tonight without the temporary lifeline of food stamps.
I ask for all of us, who care deeply about our neighbors in need of CDHS services, to use these recent events as a catalyst for change. I do not have a preference regarding our system being state or county administered. I simply want it done well. We must create a shared vision that crosses party lines and a system that is accountable, responsive and transparent at every level. The Colorado that I envision ensures no child goes to bed hungry tonight regardless of what corner of the state you live in or how your parents voted in the last election, because we have created a system that is designed for Coloradans who are in need.
May 12, 2015
One of the Hunger Through My Lens participants shares her personal experience with poverty and hunger with TalkPoverty.org. This post went viral, receiving national pick-up by BillMoyers.com and other news outlets, as well as generating thousands of likes, shares and comments via social media. Read her story.
The Colorado-based photovoice project provides a platform for real-life experts to share their stories and the impacts of hunger on their lives and communities.
Feb. 27, 2015
There are far fewer young, rumbling bellies today than five years ago, thanks to the Colorado Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. The statewide effort, set forth in late 2009, experienced substantial progress in addressing child hunger through systemic and policy changes, increased awareness, and expanded programs and services. On Feb. 27, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, Hunger Free Colorado, Share Our Strength and many contributors celebrated the success of the statewide Campaign, a result of strong collaboration and nationally-regarded innovation.
The Colorado Campaign to End Childhood Hunger was launched in November 2009 under the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter and then championed by Gov. Hickenlooper. Both issued Executive Orders—the only governors at the time to initiate such a campaign in the nation—which created a public-private partnership between the Governor’s office, Hunger Free Colorado and Share Our Strength to ensure that all children have access to nutritious food at home, in school and in their communities. The Campaign received broad support from organizations and communities across Colorado—state and county government agencies; foundations; municipalities; nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations; schools and school districts; corporations and local businesses; and countless community members.
“Hunger is an issue that affects our children’s well-being and education, as well as the health of our communities,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. “It’s important that all kids are well-fed and prepared to excel, not only in the classroom but in life. This Campaign brought people together to ensure just that, and with the progress made, more kids will have the necessary nutrition to thrive.”
The Campaign achieved many of the 10 goals set forth in the five-year strategic plan, with some far exceeding expectations. Here are some of the key successes:
- 1,499,621 summer meals were provided to Colorado kids and teens in 2014, a 95 percent increase compared to the baseline year of 2009.
- 26,843,074 breakfasts were served in 1,372 participating Colorado schools during school year 2013-14, with more being offered after the school day begins (49 percent increase from school year 2009-10).
- 604 after-school programs provided children with healthy snacks or meals in 2014, nearly a 54 percent increase compared to 2009.
- About 4 of 7 Colorado households eligible for food stamps participate in the program that helps struggling families purchase groceries (68 percent increase from 2009).
- The state streamlined the food stamp application, reducing it from 26 to 8 pages to improve ease of use and increased access for families and individuals.
- Five food banks distributed 20,898,146 pounds of fresh produce to food pantries and those impacted by hunger during 2014, a 49 percent increase compared to 2010.
- 12,450 families participated in nutrition education classes and events hosted by Cooking Matters Colorado during 2014, a 108 percent increase from 2009.
“The Colorado Campaign to End Childhood Hunger not only brought much-needed attention to the problem of child hunger in our state, but it showed that, when people work together, great things can be accomplished,” said Kathy Underhill, executive director for Hunger Free Colorado, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization. “We all rallied behind a shared vision, and by collectively implementing viable solutions and removing roadblocks to access, we have created a better future for all Colorado kids.”
The Office of Gov. Hickenlooper, Hunger Free Colorado and Share Our Strength thank all who contributed to the Campaign’s success, ensuring more children have sustainable access to needed nutrition.
Dec. 18, 2014
The holiday season is often portrayed as “merry and bright,” but for many Colorado families that’s not the case. When living paycheck to paycheck, a holiday break for families with school-age children leads to additional stress and tough choices like: Do I pay our rent and bills or buy groceries?
It’s estimated that about one in five Colorado kids don’t know when or where they will get their next meal while out of school. Their families struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table, whether due to a job loss, health issue, minimum-wage job or misfortune. School breakfast and lunch help fill nutritional gaps, ensuring that all children are setup for success. Yet, over holiday break, students who eat free and reduced-price meals lose access to that basic nutrition provided during the school day; the fuel needed for their bodies and minds.
Due to this loss, churches and charitable organizations feel the strain around the holiday season, seeing increased need at their food pantries—typically a family’s first line of defense against hunger. But charity alone cannot solve hunger and feed every person. The federal government, along with its state and local counterparts, play an important role in ensuring children, adults and seniors have access to enough food to thrive.
Programs that connect children to school breakfast and lunch, afterschool snacks, and summer meals support their health, behavior and educational performance. Other programs like food stamps serve as an economic bridge, helping families purchase groceries and get back on their feet like the 255,000 Coloradans, including 130,000 children, who were lifted out of poverty due to the safety net between 2009 and 2013.
Clearly, without such programs, more Coloradans would experience hunger and, in turn, create a ripple effect with impacts on individual well-being, education, productivity and our state’s economic health. In 2015 Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennet and the rest of Congress will consider reauthorization of all child nutrition programs, set to expire in September. They need to be protected and sufficiently funded not only to fuel kids with nutritious food, but to create a better future for all Coloradans.
This holiday break is not a vacation for thousands of families across Colorado, and it’s a shame that so many neighbors may go without and face hunger this holiday season. Food—and nutritious food at that—should be a basic human right. Our Colorado delegates in Congress have the opportunity to strengthen federal nutrition programs in 2015 and beyond, and voters need to voice their support for programs that ensure a healthier, stronger state where no Coloradan goes hungry anytime of the year.
This op-ed is penned by Kathy Underhill, executive director for Hunger Free Colorado, and it was featured in several newspapers across Colorado.
Sign up for our legislative alerts to stay up-to-date on what’s happening at the State Capitol and on Capitol Hill. We’ll notify you when lawmakers are considering bills and other proposals that impact the nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans who struggle with hunger, and with our easy-to-use system, you can tell elected officials where you stand on those issues. Visit our online advocacy center for more.
Hunger Through My Lens participant: First day shopping with food stamps
Nov. 26, 2014
“People often assume that our first shopping trip would have been demeaning or sad to me. On the contrary, I can’t talk about federal nutrition assistance, or my first experience using it, without smiling,” wrote Dr. Robin Dickinson, a physician, mother, wife and participant of Hunger Through My Lens.
Read the rest of Robin’s story that she contributed to the recent poverty issue of YES! Magazine. Four Hunger Through My Lens participants also shared photos and stories in the magazine to shed light on the reality of hunger.
Nov. 14, 2014
Watch this 9NEWS segment to see how our Hunger Free Hotline connects Colorado families to food resources, as well as hear about hunger in Colorado and what it’s like to shop on a limited food budget.